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The 1st Tee at The Old Course, St. Andrews
The 144 th Open Championship returns to the home of golf, The Old Course at St. Andrews. For those of you unfamiliar with The (British) Open, do not expect to see the lush green grass of Augusta National, or the tricked up rough of a US Open. The British Open pays homage to true links golf, which means a combination of green, brownish and yellow colors filling in the golf course. Traditional Links golf courses are bordered by a large body of water, with the prevailing winds and precipitation a major influence on how the course is played. This is why the fairways are rock hard, and the greens have frontal access, allowing players to a hit low shots (that are less affected by wind) that runs the ball up and onto the greens. This is in stark contrast to the architecture we see on parkland golf courses in America, where a premium is placed on carrying the ball to the correct subsection of each green. The Open championship rewards creativity and shot-making, making it the most fun of the four majors to watch. This does not mean a great shot is always rewarded as such though, as the fairways are not only very hard, but they have bumps, wrinkles and dimples that can send the ball heading in any number of directions based on its path and trajectory. If you like to watch professional golfers squirm, then the Open championship is for you.
The Old Course at St. Andrews is hosting its 29 th Open Championship this year. The last installment in 2010, was won by Louis Oosthuizen in a route, where he beat the nearest competitor (Lee Westwood) by seven strokes. Henrick Stenson, Rory McIlroy and Paul Casey all tied for third, eight shots back. Oosthuizen made a memorable late charge on Sunday afternoon at this year's US Open, so he will undoubtedly be one of the favorites coming into this week. Westwood, Stenson and Casey will all be in the discussion as well. Someone who won't be in contention this week is the defending champion McIlroy, who was forced to withdraw after news broke of a ruptured ankle ligament. This is a big disappointment, as the Old Course sets up very well for McIlroy. With Jordan Speith winning in dramatic fashion at the John Deere Classic, the race for World #1 position would have been a dominating story. Now, the story will drop McIlroy, and focus on Speith having a chance to claim the #1 spot with an Open Championship victory. A win would also be the third consecutive major victory for Speith, a feat that only Tiger Woods and Bobby Jones have accomplished.
Speith is at the top of his game, and despite St. Andrews being a bombers course, he will be the bettor's favorite this week. He has a deft touch around the greens, but his putting is what separates him from the rest of the field. On a course where the greens are gigantic (2 nd only to Old MacDonald at Bandon Dunes), avoiding three putts is just as important as making birdies. Expect Speith to be in the hunt on Sunday afternoon.
The early weather forecast for the week is showing temperatures between 60-65 degrees, and a 50% chance of rain on Thursday and Friday, with the skies clearing up for the weekend. Winds will also pick up on Friday and Saturday (20 mph), so the weather will be a big factor in determining who makes the cut and who makes a charge up the leaderboard on Saturday.
As the week moves on and we get closer to the first tee time on Thursday, we will give you our favorites, who to target for salary relief and who's game will not match up well with the Old Course at St. Andrews.
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The Old Course can be attacked by the longer hitters. While the short par 5's are seen as the areas to score, there are several drivable par 4's that can set up eagle opportunities and easy birdies for those who dare take the risk. Dustin Johnson, Paul Casey, JB Holmes, Adam Scott, Jason Day and Bubba Watson are a handful of guys who have the length to take advantage of holes where others may not. An early sleeper I like is Brooks Koepka. Koepka is 10 th on the PGA Tour in driving distance, and was also the European Tour's rookie of the year several years back. His exposure to links golf and playing in less than perfect conditions gives Koepka a leg up on other sleepers you might be considering.
In addition to length off the tee, another trait I am looking for is composure. The Open championship is not about playing perfect golf. It is about minimizing mistakes, being patient and taking advantage of birdie chances when they present themselves. This is why Speith is the early favorite, but also why guys like Ricky Fowler and Sergio Garcia contend each year.